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Child Safety in Pennsylvania, an Advisory Committee Report with Recommendations
Authorization: 2005 House Resolution 357

House Resolution 357 of 2005 (Printer's Number 4488), sponsored by Representative Josh Shapiro and Representative Jerry Birmelin, begins as follows:

"Sadly and suddenly, the life of three and a half-year old Katie Elise Lambert of Abington, Pennsylvania, was cruelly taken on January 21, 2005, when an unanchored wardrobe cabinet fell on top of her; and whereas, Each year, the lives of many innocent children like Katie Elise Lambert are tragically ended because of unintentional injury-related deaths. . . ."

Subsequently, House Resolution 357 was adopted and provides "that the General Assembly direct the Joint State Government Commission to establish a task force of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives; and be it further resolved that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, President pro tempore of the Senate and the Minority Leader of the Senate shall each appoint two members to the commission [task force]." In addition, the Resolution authorizes the task force to create an advisory committee to assist it in preparing a report to "review existing Pennsylvania laws and regulations to determine their impact on preventing unintentional injuries and recommend reforms and policy proposals to strengthen existing laws and regulations to reduce preventable deaths. . . ."

On November 20, 2006, the Task Force authorized by the Resolution held its organizational meeting. Rep. Josh Shapiro was appointed Chair of the Task Force. Subsequently, an advisory committee was organized consisting of 24 individuals representing various areas of expertise and interests in the field of child safety. Parents, child safety advocates, industry experts, physicians, death review team members, and representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare participated as members of the advisory committee.

The advisory committee and staff of the Joint State Government Commission reviewed applicable existing State law and regulations that pertain to child safety, analyzed data on child injuries and deaths inside and outside of Pennsylvania, and reviewed data and programs of states with lower injury death rates than the Commonwealth's in search of guidance for lowering Pennsylvania's rates of death and injury among children. The advisory committee considered all of the aforementioned and proceeded to discuss funding issues, best practices, public education, and various means for improving data collection, among other issues, topics, and themes within the expertise of its members and, ultimately, offered the recommendations which appear in this report.

Despite a certain amount of interpretive latitude within the Resolution, the advisory committee limited the scope of its work, including its recommendations, to injuries and deaths of children within the home, and from ages 0 through 14. While there are a plethora of laws and regulations in the Commonwealth which relate to safety generally and child safety specifically (such as bicycle helmet laws and automobile-related child safety seat laws), the advisory committee realized the difficulty in relying on laws and regulations to govern behaviors within the home. Product safety measures are, perhaps, the only means of impacting in-home safety, but these do little, in and of themselves, to alter behavior behind closed doors. Thus, the thread that ultimately ran through the advisory committee's deliberations, and the thread that runs through this report as well, is the need for educating the public about child safety. Given this, the advisory committee determined that the best way to educate the public is to make a commitment, as a State, to make child safety a matter of top priority. Along with this commitment to, and focus on, child safety issues and education, the advisory committee noted that adequate and sustained funding, including federal government funding, is important to the success of any effort to lower unintentional household injuries and deaths among children in Pennsylvania.

The advisory committee initially considered making recommendations per age group and/or type of injury or injury-related death. However, after careful thought and discussion, the committee realized that the same themes, issues, and thus, recommendations, would be replicated among each age category. Therefore, the committee believed it best to settle on a more comprehensive, universal approach to dealing with child safety in the aggregate.

The following chapter offers a summary of the recommendations of the advisory committee. It is followed by a more detailed look at data on child safety and the societal cost of childhood injuries and chapters on some of the other, notable considerations of the advisory committee throughout its deliberations and in the field of child safety generally. This is followed by a more detailed explanation of the recommendations of the advisory committee, with accompanying draft legislation. The report concludes with an appendix of useful child safety resources and other germane information.

 

SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS


1) Create a Child Safety Advocate position in the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

2) Create a multidisciplinary commission on child safety (or utilize a currently existing commission such as the Governor's Commission for Children and Families and expand its scope and membership accordingly) to assist the Child Safety Advocate in identifying child safety issues in Pennsylvania.

3) Improve current data collection on child safety related deaths and injuries in Pennsylvania. This may include efforts to secure more reporting on child-related injuries from emergency rooms and physician's offices and collaborating with Child Death Review teams throughout the Commonwealth.

4) Establish a clearinghouse for leading issues in child safety and for issues of immediate concern and disseminate such information to the counties, localities and private health practitioners as practicable.

5) Foster public-private partnerships which will improve child safety in the Commonwealth.

6) Require an annual report on the status of child safety in Pennsylvania to the Children and Youth Committee in the State House of Representatives and the Aging and Youth Committee in the State Senate.

7) Provide the necessary funding to accomplish each of the recommendations of the advisory committee contained in this report.

8) Urge the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation to support increased federal funding for child safety initiatives and encourage the provision of additional funding to the states.

9) Urge the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation to support federal legislation which would improve child safety including HR 4266 ("Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act").

10) Require child case workers to receive comprehensive training on in-home child safety and to provide information to foster and adoptive families on these issues.

11) Increase funding to the Department of Health to hire additional staff to focus exclusively on injuries to children and improving child safety. In addition, increase funding for the Child Death Review Program.

12) Require labeling of all furniture sold in Pennsylvania to include a warning about the danger of tip over and advocating the use of tethering devices.

JOINT STATE GOVERNMENT COMMISSION - GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
108 FINANCE BUILDING - HARRISBURG, PA 17120